A wave of change swept through Augusta this year, as a new Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate reversed some of the most destructive policies of the previous administration.

Maine finally expanded Medicaid eligibility, and committed resources to opioid treatment.

But for one group of Maine families, the grim picture remains the same.

More than 1,500 people with intellectual disabilities, autism and head injuries are on waiting lists for placement in group homes, and at current vacancy rates, they can expect to keep waiting for years. Some families have had to place their relatives in out-of-state facilities, making it difficult or impossible to visit or help with their care.

It’s a complicated problem with an obvious cause – money. Low pay rates for caregivers – rates that are set in state law – have created a crisis-level labor shortage. These are demanding, difficult jobs, and they are hard to fill when a local big-box store pays the same rate without the stress.

It’s common in Augusta to hear people say that they don’t want to just throw money at a problem, but that’s exactly what some problems require. When Maine shut down the Pineland Center, it made a commitment to provide these services in the community. The waiting list grew from 110 in 2008 to 1,500, not because there has been an increase in the population of people with intellectual disabilities, it’s because the state has not spent enough to support the program.

Maine used to be considered a national model for community-based care. The waiting lists started growing during the last years of the Baldacci administration, and continued to expand during the LePage years, despite the governor’s full-throated rhetorical support.

Proposals to increase pay rates have stalled, but the Department of Health and Human Services is studying the problem and will report back to the full Legislature next year. The families on the waitlist should not have to wait any longer.

They shouldn’t have to keep waiting. It’s common in Augusta to hear people say that they don’t want to just throw money at a problem, but that’s exactly what some problems require.

These services cost money. We need to pay it.


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